Courts & Crime

New Black Panther rally concerns Newberry, S.C., residents

NEWBERRY — Dana Brooks understands why the New Black Panther Party is organizing a rally and march Saturday through her hometown.

But she has no plans to be a part of it.

"It feels like they're stirring up more problems than they're solving," said Brooks, 18, and a recent graduate of Mid-Carolina High School. "I know they're trying to call attention to a very serious situation. But I don't feel like I should be in a situation where there could be problems."

Fear and uncertainty are thick in Newberry as local residents prepare for Saturday's rally. No one knows how many people to expect or what the mood will be. Downtown business owners were reluctant to speak this week about the planned rally but most said their businesses already will be closed by the time the Panthers assemble at the courthouse around 5 p.m.

The event is in response to the June 2 killing of Anthony Hill. Hill, a black man, was shot to death and his corpse was dragged nearly 11 miles along country roads behind a truck. Gregory Collins, 19, who is white, is in jail without bail on murder charges in the case.

Authorities are investigating the killing as they decide whether to charge Collins with a hate crime. U.S. Attorney William Nettles said he has not decided whether the killing was a hate crime and the investigation would dictate when he made that decision.

Within a week of the crime, the New Black Panther Party had seized on the case and began holding meetings in town to demand the killing be labeled a hate crime. Last week, a few people who said they were members of the party accompanied Hill's widow to a town hall meeting during which Nettles and other state and local law enforcement discussed the case.

Many people in Newberry, however, have said they are willing to let local law enforcement continue their investigation. And they do not welcome the Panthers to town.

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